STILLWATER — Shamiel Gary was not bitter three years ago, when his only scholarship offers after playing for a state championship team at Tulsa Washington were from Wyoming, Air Force and Colorado State.
And he certainly isn't bitter today. How could he be?
The junior transfer is now battling for Oklahoma State's starting strong safety job, a spot vacated by former Cowboy star and current Tennessee Titan Markelle Martin.
“We're just going out there and trying to compete,” Gary said. “Every day is a new day. I'm just excited for the opportunity just to play the game of football.”
Safeties coach Van Malone loves how Gary's experience at Wyoming, where he was a Freshman All-American in 2009, has given him the instincts to become a savvy playmaker in the secondary. It's an interesting assessment now, since that lack of experience in high school — Gary did not start until his senior season — is likely one of the main reasons he did not receive much recruiting interest from major-conference schools.
Gary's first and only college visit was to Wyoming, and he immediately became an impact player for those Cowboys.
He intercepted three passes against Weber State in his first collegiate game — and dropped a fourth. In two seasons, he tallied 192 tackles and 11 pass breakups.
But like many young adults who leave their home state for college, Gary missed his family. Talking to his parents on the phone when things were tough wasn't the same as talking in person.
And when his grandmother became ill, Gary wanted to come back to Oklahoma.
“I just wanted to be closer so I could be able to help out my family,” he said.
Gary got to spend another a year in the same state as his grandmother before she died this past summer. He's also gotten much more time with his nieces and nephews and cousins.
And while redshirting in 2011 to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, Gary still got to experience OSU's best season in school history. He was a member of the scout team that went up against Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon every day in practice. He said he'll never forget watching the Cowboys' wild Fiesta Bowl victory over Stanford.
“It was hard (sitting out),” Gary said. “But I just wanted to do my job (on the scout team) and give them a look on offense. It was just good going with the ride. It was a great year, and it was good having a chance to be a part of it.”
Since then, Gary and junior Lavocheya Cooper have been competing to start opposite Daytawion Lowe at safety.
Cooper topped the depth chart throughout spring practice and heading into fall camp. But he and Gary often play at the same time in certain packages when an extra defensive back is needed. And a head injury that held Cooper out of practice for a few days gave Gary some additional reps.
“Shamiel, in my mind, is one of the hardest-working guys on the team,” Malone said. “He does a good job watching video, anticipating, being in the right position, so he ends up making many plays.”
Gary, of course, wants that starting job. But he's most looking forward to his loved ones being able to drive an hour to watch him play in Stillwater this season.
“It's real special,” Gary said. “I get a chance to play in front of my family and friends.”
OSU safeties coach Van Malone still calls the competition for the starting strong safety job an even battle.
And he's just fine with that.
“Starter means a guy runs out first,” Malone said. “The next guy will be in two plays after him. That's kind of what I keep trying to get them to understand. Just keep playing, just keep doing what they're doing. As a coach, I'm excited about the competition.”
Juniors Lavocheya Cooper and Shamiel Gary will likely both play about 60 snaps per game in their quest to replace Markelle Martin in the secondary. Here's a closer look at what each player will bring to that spot.
Previously: Played in just four games in 2011 while working back from a knee injury. Has recorded 14 career tackles.
Edge: Straight-line speed, athleticism, consistency
Malone says: “Because he's going to make sure that he's sure, he's not going to take as many risks. He's going to always be consistently lined up, doing what he's supposed to do.”
Previously: Redshirted the 2011 season after transferring from Wyoming, where he was a freshman All-American in 2009.
Edge: Experience, vision, instincts, big-play capability
Malone says: “You know I'm all about turnovers, and he's a guy that ends up creating more turnovers. Not necessarily in all the team drills that you probably hear about, but all the little drills that we do. He probably is the better one at doing that.”